Monday, February 19, 2018

Thinking snap elections in Guyana

 WHAT APPEARS to be more than “straws in the wind”, point to likely new general elections being high on the Guyana government’s agenda for this year, possibly in November-the month of the 2011 poll. 

Clearly determined to end the recurring frustrations it has often faced in parliament with the APNU/AFC coalition’s evident abuse of a one-vote majority in the 65-member National Assembly, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP)-led government of  President Donald Ramotar has settled on a “strategy for change” focused on a new electoral mandate. 

The PPP has been accustomed to decisive parliamentary majorities since returning to state power in 1992 with the restoration of traditional multi-party electoral democracy, after almost a quarter century of interrupted state power by the PNC, based on documented electoral fraud.  

Ironically, one of the contributing factors to enable the government’s evolving strategy for early elections is the outcome of a recent poll jointly conducted by the APNU/AFC opposition. The published results, as reported last week in the Guyana Times, should provide early encouragement for the incumbent administration since, at worse, the PPP would secure an overall 45 per cent of the votes to 43 per cent for the  combined opposition (APNU 38 and AFC five).

The more positive scenario has placed the PPP with an absolute 51 per cent majority with its incumbent presidential candidate (Ramotar) a clear winner as Head of State with executive powers.

It’s puzzling to understand why the  APNU/AFC should have been tempted to conduct the opinion poll when the prevailing national mood seems hardly in their favour. It’s also relevant to note that the results confirmed the thinking of potential voters as previously revealed by as independent polling exercise conducted by the North American Caribbean Teachers Association (NACTA).

There is a related factor of discouragement for both APNU and AFC: Contrary to expectations they have been sustaining by media propaganda and political activities on the ground, they are not going to have former President Bharrat Jagdeo as their “whipping boy” since he has reaffirmed his decision not to be a presidential candidate at the next general elections.

The Jagdeo factor

Both APNU-(basically the old PNC, minus a time-line “guest” appearance of the WPA’s Rupert Roopnarine as its deputy chairman)- and the AFC have been behaving as if Jagdeo should be isolated from national politics, if not worse. 

The uncomfortable reality, or inconvenient truth for the APNU/AFC coalition, is that Jagdeo’s outstanding performances as Head of State and Government sharply contrasted with the long years of President Forbes Burnham’s, as well as the two terms of President Desmond Hoyte in relation to  social and economic achievements as the records would confirm.

However, having lost, by a mere couple of votes, the PPP’s leadership contest to first timer President Ramotar at the PPP’s last congress, it is quite evident that the bitter anti-Jagdeo campaign being waged by the APNU/AFC coalition would not be sufficient to dissuade the former two-term president from being among the more influential PPP campaigners for the coming general elections. Time will tell.

For now, apart from the unexpected authorized poll by the APNU/AFC  coalition, with the reported significant results, the parliamentary opposition must contend with 2014 budget presented by Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh last week.

Steady economic growth

At a time when most CARICOM member states-with Trinidad and Tobago being an outstanding exception are faced with persistent fiscal challenges and low economic growth resulting in cuts in budgetary allocations for even vital social services, the Finance Minister presented a G$220 billion (US$1=G$200) budget package for this year free from any new taxes, while projecting real economic growth at 5.06 per cent in 2014—compared with five per  cent for last year.  

The 2014 budget with its layers of subsidies and social benefits and projections of continuing expansion of the non-sugar sector came against the background of calls from the opposition coalition for closure of the sugar industry—still a significant source of employment. The opposition parties, may therefore have  further inflicted themselves with an additional hurdle  to scale in preparation for new national elections in 2014.

Compared with the leadership of APNU that of the minority AFC has been more stubbornly consistent in avoiding any inclination for compromises with the government, even behaving at times as if committed to an oath for unswerving obstructionist politics. 

Well, whatever its political virtue, in terms of pampering huge personal egos of two bitter former PPP parliamentarians, the cost factor for the AFC at new elections could be more hurtful than the 2011 elections at which it garnered seven seats to the APNU’s 26 and the PPP’s 32.  

In the meanwhile, for the sake of the Guyanese people of all walks of life, ethnicities and political associations, hopes should be spawned that the government and parliamentary opposition may yet pull back from confrontational politics in preference for constructive engagement to break down old divisive barriers in  favour of meaningful qualitative change from the prevailing political status quo. 

I have heard it said that where there is the will there is a way. Hopes should, therefore, be nourished that men and women of honour and goodwill, across the political divide in Guyana, may yet be forthcoming in pursuit of initiatives to break down existing walls of division for the dawn of a new day in Guyana’s political history. 

After all, it’s better to hope than despair!